What happens to recycled paint?
The oil-based paint is shipped off to companies that burn it to generate electricity. Latex paint deemed salvageable gets a second chance to brighten someone’s day.
Depending on its color, the paint is poured over a screen into one of three 55-gallon drums. Blues, grays and greens go into the “Cool” drum. Beige hues make it into the “Off White” barrel, and reds, tans and browns are destined for the “Warm” container.
“If you didn’t do any sorting, you’d always get a light brown that gets a little boring,” says Paul Fresina, who oversees the center. “If you separate it and play with it, you can come up with more of the colors that people want.” With the three distinct color classifications, center workers can mix the paint into just about any color they want, from pinks to yellows.
The end product, hundreds of 5-gallon buckets of remixed house paint stored in a shipping container, is available free for San Francisco residents, who use it for everything from covering up graffiti to painting their basements, but the supply always exceeds demand. In an effort to spread the reclaimed paint farther, 10 years ago, the mostly immigrant employees at the center proposed sending some of it back to their home countries.
With this in mind, in 1995 the first shipment of more than 700 5-gallon buckets of paint was shipped to Tonga. Since then, similar shipments have made their way, free of charge, to San Salvador, El Salvador; Tepatitlan (or Tepa), Los Cabos and Santiago, Mexico; and Mali, where the paint has been used for schools, churches and other community buildings. The recipients in these countries generally prefer brighter colors, so the paint is remixed from its drab American origins into more vibrant hues.
The shipping costs are about the same as sending the paint to a Los Angeles facility to be blended into cement. SF Recycling picks up the extra costs of sending paint to Mexico or any other countries.